A loved one can feel fragile and frightened when it comes to serious health conditions, and upcoming doctor visits may augment worries that are already present. Yet, it’s important for caregivers to recognize how essential such visits are — both for themselves and for the care recipients.
For instance, nearly half of all caregivers ranked family physicians and medical specialists highly among their most valued resources in caring for others, according to a study at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
Recognizing the pre-visit anxiety and preparing for the visit together is one of the best approaches you can take, says Niki Barr, PhD, a psychotherapist for the Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders in Fort Worth, Texas and author of “Emotional Wellness: The Other Half of Treating Cancer.” “Talk about the upcoming visit — and the condition — together. Set aside some time each day to research it. That builds a bond and gets you on the same page. And it’s an opener for a conversation.”
Just because the care recipient feels afraid about an upcoming doctor’s appointment doesn’t mean that you’ve been asked to take over completely in the visit. One way to ensure involvement is to talk together about what you each want to accomplish during the visit, exploring questions such as: Are you concerned about medication side effects or the effectiveness of treatments? Are there new symptoms or worries to bring up?
“Observe your loved one’s nonverbal behavior.” suggests Barr. “If she looks worried, ask if she is. Care recipients and caregivers can both feel like they have to act strong and tough. But, it’s okay for both of you to feel whatever you feel, and you can help give your loved one permission to do that.”
Take the Next Steps
You can prepare for upcoming doctor’s visits by helping your loved one to recognize fears, in addition to following the steps below:
- Remember who your loved one is. “Caregivers can begin to look at the care recipient as a patient only: ‘You’re the sick one, and I’m the well one,’” says Barr. “Instead, try to communicate that you want to work through the fears — both yours and the care recipient’s— together.”
- Research your loved one’s condition. The more you know about the health condition your care recipient has, the more confident you both will feel about your care and judgment. And knowing more, you can also help your loved one give more shape to what he or she most wants to get out of a doctor’s visit.
- Write down questions together. Work to reassure your care recipient to address any issues that might arise about who is in control of the appointment by writing down all questions and concerns and making a copy you can each take to the appointment. If there are a lot of questions, the American Heart Association suggests a “consultation appointment” with the doctor. This will allow for more time and a less rushed experience. “Family Caregiver Handbook” by the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services offers a helpful list of suggested questions.
- Understand what the doctor can’t accomplish. “Many people want more family counseling than doctors can give,” says Barr. “If you and the care recipient need help working through emotional issues, ask your doctor for a referral to a counselor, and ask what other patients have done that has been helpful.” Also ask about community resources, such as local support groups.